Bdelloid rotifers are freshwater micro-invertebrates being the largest, oldest, most successful group of multicellular organisms reproducing asexually. The existence and success of bdelloids has been called and quot;an evolutionary scandal and quot; becau se all theories on the evolution of sex predict that bdelloids should be extinct. Their existence thus indicates that they must have evolved alternate means of achieving the advantages conferred by sexual reproduction. One of the advantages of sex is that recombination efficiently creates genetic variation which allows a species to avoid being driven to extinction by pathogens. Bdelloids cannot create genetic variability by recombination, yet live in environments where they are exposed to parasites.
The long-term success of bdelloids in such environments suggests that their innate immune system evolved in response to pathogens without the benefit of sexual reproduction. Here, we propose to:
1) Identify natural pathogens of bdelloids by microscopy and PCR
2) Challenge uninfected bdelloids with natural pathogens and non-specific bacterial pathogens infecting a wide range of species and investigate the genetic variation in resistance between bdelloid populations.
3) Examine the genetics of the bdelloid innate immune response by comparing gene expression in infected and uninfected bdelloids, revealing host genes up-regulated upon infection with possibly unusual anti-pathogen properties.
This proposal offers the high reward of a unique model system that may have evolved novel mechanisms of anti-parasite defence that may be useful in combating infection. The proposal is founded on the fields of genomics, molecular and evolutionary biology as applied to parasitology, providing the applicant a first rate training in a wide variety of disciplines. Collaborators with varied research skills are involved, strengthening the research initiative and promising a greater unity in tackling an important problem.
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